There is no denying Freddy Adu's greatness - there never was. But for all of the hype and awe that continually follow him everywhere, not much of it, if any, had to do with D.C. United. As the youngest pro in a century and the youngest ever MLS draft pick ever, he would've made headlines no matter which team selected him.
When Adu's name is announced in stadiums across the country, fans cheer. MetroStars fans in Giants Stadium give loud ovations for a D.C. United player. Can you imagine fans in Yankee Stadium applauding a 16-year old member of the Boston Red Sox? Often Freddy and United have been like a rock band - fans flock to see them play, but they're really only interested in the lead singer. Until this past Saturday, Adu's career and D.C. United's success were moving in the same direction, but were on separate tracks.
This past Saturday, the thrilling carnival of Freddy Adu melded seamlessly with D.C. United's quest for a fifth MLS Cup Championship, and the result was a stroke of brilliance in the form of a stoppage time game-winning goal against the Los Angeles Galaxy in The Home Depot Center before a national television audience. The poster boy for the future of American Soccer, in the premier venue of American soccer, scored a critical goal for the champions of American soccer.
After watching the first 90 minutes, neither team looked likely to score at all. D.C. United couldn't keep possession and didn't create many good scoring chances. Los Angeles was a little better in the second half, but they squandered their opportunities as well. Finally, in a match that seemed destined for a scoreless draw, Adu made the game-changing play.
It all started with a defensive header from Brandon Prideaux. The Galaxy were throwing players forward trying to find the game winner and Prideaux's header rolled across midfield to Adu, who turned and saw a lot of space in front of him. He accelerated to the top of the attacking third, using skills to get around the defender and strength to hold him off. As Adu neared the top of the box, a second defender reacted to slow him down just as he was winding up to shoot. Adu's shot glanced off the defender and flew into the upper 90 for the remarkable goal.
Adu scored one game-winning goal last season in the Meadowlands against the MetroStars, and he converted his penalty kick in the Eastern Conference Final shootout, but his most recent goal was surely his greatest contribution to United. In the past, Adu's highlights have been impressive, but not necessarily crucial for the success of D.C. United.
Adu's best moment of his rookie season was the spectacular goal he scored at RFK, when he dribbled through the entire Galaxy defense and curled a shot into the corner. That play was deservingly selected as last season's "Play of the Year", but it came in a 4-2 loss for United. The reason why Adu's goal from Saturday is his most significant in terms of D.C. United is because of what the goal meant to the team at the time it was scored.
When Marco Etcheverry was creating his legacy in the early years of D.C. United, each accomplishment he made was intrinsically linked with D.C. United. His 1996 game-winning goal in the pouring rain against Tampa Bay not only showed his prowess, but also lifted United to an important win. Etcheverry's three assists in MLS Cup '96 not only demonstrated his ability to dominate a critical match, they won United the league's inaugural championship. Everything that Etcheverry did on the field reflected and represented D.C. United.
For the first time, Freddy Adu's individual talent has resulted in an important triumph for United, and henceforth his abilities should continue to mean success for his club. Great players are not measured by their talents, but instead by the impact they have on their teams. In a key match, when his team needed him most, Adu made the biggest play of his career.
D.C. United now have two weeks off from the MLS schedule before their next league match at Chicago. By that time, Ben Olsen and Santino Quaranta will have rejoined the team, Alecko Eskandarian should also be ready to take the field, and there's also a chance that Bryan Namoff will be available to help solidify the defense. With the return of these players, only Peter Nowak knows what role Adu will have for the remainder of the season.
Adu has been maturing quickly since he joined D.C. at age 14, and he needs to keep showing patience and timeliness to ensure that the impact he has for United continues to be as dramatic as in the waning moments against Los Angeles.
Tony Limarzi is a contributor to dcunited.com. He is also the voice of D.C. United soccer, calling all of the Black-and-Red's games live on WMET.